Raleigh police officer Robert Wagner has high hopes for an area of town where hope can be in short supply. Hope in the form of a movie.
“The community is excited about it," he told me. "I don’t want to just film a movie, but I want to make it a ministry."
What Officer Wagner has in mind is making a movie in and about one of Raleigh's toughest neighborhoods. He calls the film Bragg N East, named for the intersection of Bragg and S. East Street in South Raleigh, an area he knows well from his days "on the beat" there.
"I’ve seen a lot, I’ve experienced a lot," he says. "A lot of hurt and pain. I’ve taken all these stories and I thought someone needs to see these stories so they can motivate people to change, and want to change. And motivate people who don’t know about these areas in their own city to go out and help.”
So, he wrote a faith-based movie about it, a fiction film inspired by real-life events. (Here’s a promotional teaser for the film at this link)
But first, here’s a little about Wagner himself. The 28-year-old grew up in New Bern and got caught up in the film and TV industry after high school. He worked as an actor and crew member on a number of productions -- History Channel re-enactments, small-budget movies and the like – before coming to Raleigh and joining the police department in 2007.
“I’m a man of strong faith," he told me. "I think God has a reason for everything. I think for some reason God led me to join the police department. I don’t really call them valleys in life, I call them training grounds.”
When he graduated from the police academy, Wagner asked to be assigned to a "challenging" part of town. That turned out to be the South Park community, where the Bragg/East intersection is located. And a challenge it was. He says he found the residents to be deeply suspicious and openly hostile to him – until he changed his attitude towards them.
“And from that day on I would drive down Bragg Street -- a place that people would stick their middle fingers up at you and cuss at you and spit at your car -- I would just start driving through there, smiling, waving, and saying hello, how you doin,’ are you doing alright? And I would do it every day. It slowly broke down those walls of mistrust. Gang members, drug dealers, prostitutes. I’ve been able to create a connection with a lot of them to the point that, today, I have prostitutes flag me down and say, officer, thank you for your prayers. At times I’ve even had gang members give me a hug. That’s a huge breakthrough.”
And he says those times he’s had to send folks to jail they often seemed more concerned about what he thinks of them than the charges they face.
So now, Officer Wagner is creating a movie on his own time and independent of the police department with the goal of bringing hope -- and funds -- to a neighborhood that could desperately use both. And he’s gathering an army of church groups and volunteers to help with the project. More about the movie, and the volunteers behind it, in my blog next week.
Speaking of church volunteers, there will be thousands of them doing hundreds of good deeds on Saturday from Raleigh-based Hope Community Church. Hope is having its church-wide Day of Service on May 19th. Its members will be doing everything from yard work to serving meals to sorting through donations for the poor. The service opportunities will be spread throughout the Triangle.
THOU SHALT NOT STEAL…another church’s members? A new collaborative ministry outreach in the Queen city (Charlotte ONE) has the goal of attracting hard to reach 20 & 30-somethings across denominational lines without “sheep-stealing.” Read about it here.